It was about this time last year when the emerging novel coronavirus pandemic led to the cancelation of spring high school sports. The Yelm High School fastpitch team was well-positioned to have …
It was about this time last year when the emerging novel coronavirus pandemic led to the cancelation of spring high school sports. The Yelm High School fastpitch team was well-positioned to have another remarkable season, but the pandemic halted competition before it could even start.
“I think we handed out uniforms for picture day, then it was, ‘see you later,’” said Lindsay Walton, head coach of Yelm fastpitch, during the team’s third day back.
“It was really weird, to be honest … I never felt like we had any closure. I felt really bad for those seniors, for their last season to end the way that it did. I felt like we were going to have another chance for a good run. That was just really disheartening to not be able to have that season,” she continued.
After falling in the championship game of the WIAA 3A State Softball Tournament in 2019, hopes were high last spring that Yelm could win a state title after returning a familiar roster.
Fast forward one year — and one pandemic later — and the roster has seen turnover, though work ethic remains high. A six-week season awaits Yelm starting this week. District and state tournaments have been cancelled as the WIAA seeks to keep teams playing close to home.
Walton notes the team will be aiming for a perfect season this year in lieu of its regular state title pursuit.
This will be Walton’s 15th year coaching the Tornados, and it will likely be the most unusual one yet.
“Their attitudes have been great. They’ve been working hard, hustling and they’re ready to get after it. I can tell,” Walton said.
Thirty girls came out for fastpitch this season — more than Yelm has had in a long time, Walton noted. The varsity team will be about 13 to 14 girls deep and a bit younger than recent years.
Catcher Audrey Missildine will be Yelm’s only returning senior this season, though the team has a deep junior class.
“We do have more seniors. But Audrey, she’ll be tough behind the plate and she swings a really good bat,” Walton said.
Junior Vivian Watts, a left-handed pitcher, will lead from the mound this year. Junior utility player Ashlyn Aven will also likely have time pitching.
The Tornados also return junior second baseman Molly Embrey and second-all conference outfielder Elena Castanon — two heavy hitters.
The duo had a combined 27 RBIs their freshman season.
Yelm went 21-5 overall in 2019, claimed the South South Conference championship title and took fourth at districts before finishing as runner up at state. The team had a batting average of .406, belted 14 home runs and stole 35 bases.
The team tallied 260 total runs.
Between 2016 and 2019, Yelm made an appearance every year at state. While there are no postseason prospects — not because of their ability, but due to COVID — Walton said the focus this year is on providing playing time for the team.
“Let’s just get people out and moving and on the field and having fun,” Walton said, adding that while the circumstances have changed, their aspirations have not. “But I’m sure one of our goals is going to be to win every game.”
The Tornados only had five practices prior to their first game this week, and that included tryouts. But the team looked sharp when the NVN visited practice on Wednesday.
Watts, who had her first practice that day after coming off a shortened season with Tornados volleyball, said the goal is to have fun this season and make the best of the opportunity they have to compete.
“I feel like a lot of girls are upset about this pandemic, and I just want to make sure I see smiles on the field. That’s just what I hope for,” Watts said. “There’s a lot of new girls, and I’m happy to see that. Even today, I see a lot of growth from these girls, and I expect them to be really good this year.”
She added that she’s not much of a strikeout pitcher, so her teammates should have plenty of opportunity to make fielding plays. Watts, who’s played fastpitch regularly the last 10 years, including select ball, said it’s the camaraderie that keeps her coming back.
“They’re very determined and hardworking, and they’re very fun and they don’t care about what their hair looks like or if they lose the game because they’re going to get right back out there and try as hard as they can to win that game,” Watts said.
Missildine said she’s excited to come out on the field and have an opportunity to play her senior year. She expected that this year would mirror last year, but now they know they’ll have an opportunity to play.
“I have a bunch of underclassmen friends I’m excited that I get to play with because I didn’t think I’d get to,” Missildine said.
She said she’s excited to see how they match up against 3A newbie River Ridge and other teams. This will be her second year with the varsity Tornado team.
Missildine said she’s been pitching and catching with Watts for many years now. She said their chemistry should work fairly seamlessly on the diamond.
2021 Varsity Roster
(Jersey Number, Grade, Name)
• No. 1 — junior Molly Embrey
• No. 2 — junior Elena Castanon
• No. 3 — junior Karis Sanders
• No. 4 — junior Molly Corak
• No. 5 — senior Daylene Keyes
• No. 6 — junior Katelyn Cederburg
• No. 7 — junior Ashlyn Aven
• No. 9 — junior Vivian Watts
• No. 12 — senior Ashlynn Villegas
• No. 15 — junior Kailei Thompson
• No. 17 — senior Audrey Missildine
• No. 23 — junior Kendall Lawson
• No. 31 — freshman Madisyn Erickson
• No. 32 — freshman Elissa Dewees
2021 Varsity Schedule
• Tuesday, March 23, 3:30 p.m. — league matchup against North Thurston at Lacey RAC
• Thursday, March 25, 4 p.m. — league matchup hosting Capital
• Tuesday, March 30, 4 p.m. — league matchup hosting River Ridge
• Thursday, April 1, 4 p.m. — league matchup at Timberline
• Monday, April 5, 4 p.m. — non-league matchup hosting Spanaway Lake
• Tuesday, April 6, 4 p.m. — league matchup hosting North Thurston
• Thursday, April 8, 4 p.m. — league matchup at Capital
• Tuesday, April 13, 4 p.m. — league matchup at River Ridge
• Saturday, April 17, 1 p.m. — league matchup hosting Timberline
• Tuesday, April 20, 3:30 p.m. — league matchup against North Thurston at Lacey RAC
• Thursday, April 22, 4 p.m. — league matchup hosting Capital
• Tuesday, April 27, 6 p.m. — non-league matchup at Peninsula
• Thursday, April 29, 4 p.m. — league matchup at Timberline
• Saturday, May 1, 1 p.m. — league matchup hosting River Ridge
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